Scratching the Surface

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina took time to enjoy Thursday night's victory over Rutgers, but head coach Butch Davis told reporters during his weekly Sunday night teleconference that the primetime performance is merely a stepping stone to where he wants this program to eventually go.

Most observers viewed the 44-12 blowout in front of a national television audience as a coming out party, and more importantly, a confidence builder for a program trying desperately to emerge from a decade-long shadow of losing and mediocre – at best – football.

But Davis believes the confidence was present before his Tar Heels ever took the field in New Jersey.

"I think confidence is born in preparation," Davis said. "If you feel good that you've prepared well and you're ready for a test, then you're always looking forward to that challenge or to that test."

The second-year head coach provided an analogy that he has used with his players, suggesting that if a student knew every answer to a history exam, that person would have no apprehension about the test and would actually be excited about the opportunity to score well when the day of the exam arrived.

"I think our players realized that they had very productive practices for Rutgers and I think that helped their confidence," Davis said. "Then they saw their performance growing because there was a lot of recognition. You can't make some of the plays that we made in the ball game without being prepared to make those plays when the opportunity presents itself."

There were questions surrounding quarterback T.J. Yates entering this season, with regard to late season struggles last fall and a corresponding shoulder injury that sidelined the sophomore through spring practice. But while Yates was unable to throw during his recovery time, he spent most of his time in the film room, educating himself on reading opposing defenses to cut down on the mental errors that plagued him during 2007.

That confidence has been evident through two games this fall, as Yates ranks 14th nationally in passing efficiency (167.98) while completing over 60 percent of his passes for 442 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception.

Davis indicated that Yates was "solid" against Rutgers, managing the game well and protecting the football.

"We had no turnovers on offense, and I think that some of that can certainly be attributed to T.J. being very wise about knowing when and how to throw the football," Davis said. "I thought he showed some growth and development from the standpoint that he made some really good decisions that you can see that he is a smarter quarterback than a year ago."

Arguably the top ACC storyline of this young season has been the emergence of Brandon Tate into a do-everything type of player. The senior wide receiver was unfairly labeled as just a return man during his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, but with a newfound confidence that began to grow when Davis took over nearly two years ago, Tate currently ranks No. 1 nationally in all purpose yards, averaging 308 yards per game and nearly 31 yards per play.

"We needed him to be a dangerous weapon…," Davis said. "We needed him to become a lot more productive as a receiver and a lot more productive as far as someone that could run the ball and I think he's grown into that role very well."

Yates and Tate are just two players of many in this North Carolina program that are learning what it takes to win at the Division I-A level. But part of that process is in understanding that complacency in a 32-point victory on national television is not part of the master plan.

"As the team and the program grows, what they did last week won't be enough," Davis said. "Virginia Tech is a much better football program and a much better football team than Rutgers. And if we just do what we did last week to prepare for Rutgers, it won't be enough. We've got to do more, and hopefully they'll respond with that mindset."

North Carolina will host Virginia Tech in its conference opener next Saturday at Kenan Stadium (3:30pm, ABC).


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